Statutory Routes to Workplace Flexibility in Cross-National Perspective

Source: Ariane Hegewisch, Janet C. Gornick, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2008

The large majority of high-income countries have introduced flexible working statutes aimed at making it easier for employees to change how many hours, and when and where they work within their current job. Patchy progress towards more diversified work arrangements is pushing workers out of the labor market altogether, or into jobs that are below their skill levels and potential. Few economies can afford such a waste of human resources in view of changing demographics, reduced labor force growth, and global competition for knowledge.

Flexible working statutes strengthen the ability of individual employees to find solutions that allow work-life reconciliation, but in a manner that takes account of employers’ business and operational requirements. Of 20 high-income countries examined in comparison with the United States, 17 have statutes to help parents adjust working hours, 6 help with family care giving responsibilities for adults; 12 allow change in hours to facilitate lifelong learning; 11 support gradual retirement; and 5 countries have statutory arrangements open to all employees, irrespective of the reason for seeking different work arrangements. Evaluation of statutes supporting flexible working hours shows that the laws have caused few problems for employers, and that gender equality improves most where laws are interpreted broadly, not narrowly focused on part-time work.

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